With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A balanced approach to charter schools

As readers of this blog well know, I am and have long been an advocate of small, alternative, and charter schools and our Small Schools Workshop has played a role nationally, in designing and creating some of the better ones. But the current push by Arne Duncan to portray all charters as superior to all traditional schools, to play off charters against neighborhood schools, and to leverage stimulus funds to try and force states and districts to shift their dwindling resources to charters is a great example of misleadership.

A pro-charter Wall Street Journal article, "Demand for Charter Schools is High," mainly quoting conservative charter advocates, can't help but reveal the weaknesses in Duncan's strategy and the superficiality of thinking behind it. According to the article:
A 2006 study by the Department of Education found that charter school fourth graders had lower scores in reading and math on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a federal achievement test, than their counterparts in regular public schools.
Collapses and alleged improprieties by charter-school operators continue to raise questions about oversight. The Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, estimates that 657, or 12.5%, of the 5,250 charter schools opened since 1992 have been closed, mostly for financial and mismanagement reasons.
In Ohio, where about two-thirds of charter high schools fail to graduate at least half of their seniors, the state auditor says the financial records of 17 charter schools are so bad as to be "unauditable."
Even some charter school advocates say charter sponsors, or "authorizers," aren't doing enough to oversee existing charters and weed out bad operators. "There are too many lousy charters out there," says Todd Ziebarth, a vice president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a pro-charter group.
The topper was Catalyst's report this week showing that the new charters started under Duncan's own Renaissance 2010 initiative in Chicago were lagging behind even poorly-funded neighborhood schools in areas of measurable learning outcomes.

Duncan would do better to use stimulus dollars to support and transform existing public schools, especially large urban high schools and to project a more balanced and nuanced perspective on charters rather than his current arm-twisting approach--which is bound to meet resistance.

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